Labour have intensified their message to Westminster voters concerned that property development in the Central London borough has got out of control by pledging to use the council’s planning powers to help protect “unique” and “iconic” areas if they take power in May.
Adam Hug, who leads the council’s Labour group, says a Labour administration would look to use provisions at its disposal to designate Soho and Chinatown as “special policy areas” and give them them additional protections against incursions by new construction projects with a view to retaining their specialist uses and distinctive characters.
Pointing out that the current, Conservative, administration has long deployed these powers to help protect parts of St James containing private members’ clubs as well as medical practices in Harley Street, tailoring businesses in Savile Row and art galleries in Mayfair, Hug says Labour would use them to encompass additional areas, extending their safeguards to live music and LGBTI community venues “and other small business that keep Soho vibrant and interesting”.
In addition, Hug promises that Labour would “work to minimise the impact of the proposed Crossrail 2 on Soho, including fighting to protect the the well-loved Curzon Soho cinema”. He adds that Labour would “work proactively with major landowners to address the rent crisis”.
The council’s current planning policy says that defining special planning areas can “help ensure that unique clusters of activity are not lost to other uses” and that protecting those uses “supports specific industries’ long term success and in many cases enhances London’s global reputation”.
Controversy over development pressures in the more famous parts of Westminster has affected the Conservatives’ preparations for May’s elections, with one of their councillors for West End ward, Paul Church, standing down, saying he dislikes “the direction the council has been taking regarding property developers and overdevelopment in the West End”. Church stressed that he still fully supports the Conservative Party, but claimed he had been “bullied, silenced and threatened” by “powerful allies” of developers.
West End ward contains Soho and Mayfair and looks difficult for Labour to win, but recent opinion polls and the further publicising of council deputy leader Robert Davis’s receipt of gifts and hospitality from property companies suggests Tory losses in the ward cannot be ruled out.
Photograph from Visit London.